Pope Francis: Blessings don’t affect sacrament of marriage

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Pope Francis smiles as he meets with some 30 priests -- Canossian Fathers and priests from the Diocese of Rome -- in the pastoral center of St. George of Acilia Parish in south Rome Dec. 21, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

ROME (CNS) — The Vatican’s recently published guidance on administering blessings to same-sex couples or other unmarried couples does not affect the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, Pope Francis said.

Meeting for nearly two hours with a group of about 30 priests on the southern outskirts of Rome Dec. 21, the pope fielded questions and gave advice about how to live out priestly ministry.

Canossian Father Antonio Vettorato, pastor of St. George of Acilia parish, which hosted the meeting, told Catholic News Service Dec. 22 that one of the priests asked Pope Francis about the implementation of “Fiducia Supplicans” (“Supplicating Trust”), the document that addresses blessings for same-sex couples published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith Dec. 18.

The pope addressed the question briefly, Father Vettorato said, stressing that the document insisted that “people must be welcomed” in the church.

“It does not involve the sacrament of marriage. It doesn’t change the sacrament,” he quoted the pope as saying.

New Vatican instruction on blessings

The document said a Catholic priest can bless a gay or other unmarried couple as long as it is not a formal liturgical blessing and does not give the impression that the Catholic Church is blessing the union as if it were a marriage. It insisted the church “remains firm” in teaching that marriage is only an exclusive, stable relationship between one woman and one man.

Father Vettorato said Pope Francis took the opportunity to encourage the priests to be effective educators when they are giving courses on marriage so that everyone may have a better understanding of what the sacrament entails.

The pope, seated alongside Rome Auxiliary Bishop Dario Gervasi, spoke informally with the priests who minister in the diocese’s 27th prefecture, an area similar to a deanery, about the experience of the priesthood, welcoming others in the church, being close to the people they serve and the synodal process, “which is the way the church is moving toward the future,” Bishop Gervasi said in a statement.

Meeting with priests ministering in Rome

The meeting was Pope Francis’ third encounter since September with priests ministering in the poorer suburbs of Rome.

Father Vettorato said the pope told the priests that when it comes to implementing synodal process, “Don’t be in a rush,” and that he recalled how the journey of making a synodal church began 50 years ago with St. Paul VI.

“The synod is not something that has a deadline,” Father Vetterato reported the pope as saying. He also said the pope asked the priests to “have a desire that synodality take root in the life of the church,” adding: “I believe this is the church we should expect.”

After meeting with the priests, Pope Francis greeted some 65 volunteers who work in the parish’s pastoral center, which was founded by the sister of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. The center offers food and clothes to people in need and supports young mothers in situations of financial difficulty.

Justin McLellan

Justin McLellan is a journalist based in Rome with Catholic News Service. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology from the University of Notre Dame.